Why Atheists Should Respect the Idea of “One True Church”

I read something recently where someone railed against the idea of any church claiming to be “true,” because it could only lead to pride and persecution.  I’m sure such has been the case at times, where some person or group has let their claims to truth give them license to alienate or oppress those on the outside of their vision, and this is awfully unfortunate.  But that’s hardly evidence that such always leads to violence, or that the claim is always untrue.  Actually, this is one religious claim that the most stridently secular among us should genuinely respect. 

A few years ago, I posted a message on a bulletin board for atheists that, if they were so inclined, they could consider the Book of Mormon as something they’d been missing but should be interested in–a physical artifact whose very nature could substantiate the existence of God.  That started a decent dialogue, but when some readers got the point that I was implying that religious claims were even capable of being literally, empirically accurate, they reacted with mockery.  That claim sounded like a fresh bit of arrogance, I suppose, but, once again, they should have seized upon it.

First of all, every religion’s depiction of reality can’t be accurate, because so many of them are contradictory.  So either none of them are, or one of them is.  Some combination of aspects of various faiths could conceivably be true, but unless multiple religions are exactly the same, only one could be purely, fully true.  The fact that any church makes such a claim–and there are few today which do–shouldn’t be an invitation to ridicule, but a recognition that even in religion, reason rules. 

If the popular conception of religion is that it’s merely a cultural tradition, or a product of wishful thinking, etc., I’d think that those who don’t find it valid (and who hold those critical assumptions about the origin of belief) would welcome a claim that not only is such not so, but that the seemingly supernatural claims of religion can be investigated, tested, and either authenticated or disproved. 

Finally! an atheist might shout.  A chance to definitively debunk this nonsense.  Which is exactly the opportunity the Book of Mormon offers the would-be skeptic.  At the same time, it provides the hard-headed devotee of reason an approach to religion that is as far from mystical as possible: a long, dense, sober text that begs to be scrutinized, studied, compared, researched, and analyzed until a verdict can be reached.  The text itself explains a method of experimenting on its truth claims that will yield consistent, reproducible results. 

The intellectually honest atheist should respect the exclusive truth claims of the LDS church because they are logically consistent, and because this is one religion that is ready to put up or shut up.

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10 comments on “Why Atheists Should Respect the Idea of “One True Church”

  1. All religions have a similar “method” of verifying the “truth” of their claims, essentially it boils down to “try it, you’ll like it”. Most religions, LDS included, have basically positive universal moral teachings in common but interweave those positive teachings with mythology. Ancient religions have an advantage in that the history of their origin is in the distant past, so it is very difficult to separate actual historical facts recorded in the holy book from mythological fictions. The Book of Mormon doesn’t have that advantage since its mythology was created in the mid 19th century by a known con man and the allegedly historical stories it contains have long been refuted as pure fiction.

    The validity of a religion does not rest on the faithfulness of its sacred books to history, but on the usefulness of its shared stories and rituals in encouraging moral behavior and in providing comfort, however false, to those of its believers who are in pain. Every religion also has a dark side because the requirement of belief in various myths and the interpretations given to those myths by contemporary leaders can lead believers to carry out immoral even dastardly deeds against those who do not believe or who believe differently, or against those its holy book singles out as evil. Most religions teach obedience to authority, unquestioning obedience, or at least one in which the questions are narrowly defined. That authoritarian bent makes religion very useful to those who want to exert political power and can be corrosive to a democracy.

  2. Charles, you offer a lot of solid ideas here, so I’ll quote them and respond:

    All religions have a similar “method” of verifying the “truth” of their claims, essentially it boils down to “try it, you’ll like it”.

    Really? Fairly few religions that I know of even publicly make absolute truth claims at all, much less encourage analysis and experimentation on them as a method of validation; to the best of my knowledge, Moroni 10:3-5 is wholly unique in world literature. If you have examples, I’d love to hear them.

    Most religions, LDS included, have basically positive universal moral teachings in common but interweave those positive teachings with mythology.

    Does your definition of “mythology” simply mean, “Something I don’t like”? If there’s substance to the claim, though, please share.

    Ancient religions have an advantage in that the history of their origin is in the distant past, so it is very difficult to separate actual historical facts recorded in the holy book from mythological fictions. The Book of Mormon doesn’t have that advantage since its mythology was created in the mid 19th century by a known con man and the allegedly historical stories it contains have long been refuted as pure fiction.

    These are your most concrete, and your falsest, claims. How do you know Joseph Smith was a con man? What irrefutable source do you have that Latter-day Saints must not have ever heard of? Is your logic here, perhaps, circular? (“He was a con man.” How do you know? “He faked the Book of Mormon.” How do you know? “Because he was a con man!”) To denounce the Book of Mormon as fiction, you’d have to propose a plausible theory of authorship (means, motive, etc.), which you haven’t done, and you’d have to account for the mountain of evidence in its favor, which you certainly haven’t done. You’re obviously not obligated to, but intellectual integrity requires us to fully participate in conversations into which we inject ourselves.

    The validity of a religion does not rest on the faithfulness of its sacred books to history, but on the usefulness of its shared stories and rituals in encouraging moral behavior and in providing comfort, however false, to those of its believers who are in pain.

    Says who?

    Every religion also has a dark side because the requirement of belief in various myths and the interpretations given to those myths by contemporary leaders can lead believers to carry out immoral even dastardly deeds against those who do not believe or who believe differently, or against those its holy book singles out as evil. Most religions teach obedience to authority, unquestioning obedience, or at least one in which the questions are narrowly defined. That authoritarian bent makes religion very useful to those who want to exert political power and can be corrosive to a democracy.

    So what? Besides these tired old charges being greatly exagggerated, what does that have to do with the matter at hand, the literal veracity of religious claims? These don’t sound like legitimate, objective claims, but the excuses of minds which were closed to anything outside their comfort zone a long time ago. Much of your comment, but these last lines especially, remind me of a satire I wrote a few years ago. If I’m wrong, please show me how.

    Thanks again!

  3. I grew up Southern Baptist and that religion made absolute claims all the time, as does almost every branch of Christianity. In every case, the religion says that we have to take it on faith and usually points to experiential tests – “Marsha believed and God healed her of cancer”, or similar claims. I don’t find the Moroni quote all that different from several other biblical quotes or religious writings. I assume that Mormons, like fundamentalist Christians, spend their “study” time reading and re-reading the various approved texts of their faith and the comments and “analysis” of others who have chosen to believe. Even some Mormon scholars evidently have a difficult time buying into the historicity of Smith’s tall tales.

    Alternative theory of the authorship of the Book of Mormon? How about Joseph Smith made it up himself? Are there any non-Mormon scientists who can prove that there was an ancient culture in the Americas that parallels Smith’s mythology? Even the stories told by Smith and others about his “discoveries” and “translation”, etc., employ techniques (seer stones,etc.) commonly associated with confidence men and hucksters of the time. Ultimately, whatever his motivations or intentions, Smith is one of a number of men who have invented successful religions and the only difference is that his invention is more recent.

    All religions consider themselves valid and thus, based solely on the claims of the religion and its adherents, we have no way to know which is or isn’t valid. With any set of ideas or beliefs, the only legitimate way to judge is to look at the effects of the belief on those who maintain it. That’s the only validity that can be judged by anyone outside the faith itself, and thus the only validity that is dependent on fact not belief. As with any other world view or relationship, a person can evaluate a religion by weighing its positive benefits against its negative, in other words: Am I going to be better off believing than not and can I accept the mythology associated with this religion while being honest with myself? Any benefit a religion asserts that cannot be evaluated objectively (eternal life in heaven, reincarnation, seeing one’s deceased loved ones again,etc.) is simply irrelevant to any objective test of its validity. We can only judge the positive vs. negative effects of the religion on individuals, society and culture. For individuals, the positive effects are likely to be associated with their need for emotional support and comfort or membership in a group that can provide social benefits.

    You accuse atheists of being closed minded, but we simply apply the same standards to religious claims as we do to any other claims. We don’t invent a separate set of standards to judge religion. You talk about “literal veracity of religious claims” and I would say that there is no way to prove those claims without first believing in the religion.

  4. Charles, thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Here are some responses:

    “I grew up Southern Baptist and that religion made absolute claims all the time, as does almost every branch of Christianity. In every case, the religion says that we have to take it on faith and usually points to experiential tests – “Marsha believed and God healed her of cancer”, or similar claims. I don’t find the Moroni quote all that different from several other biblical quotes or religious writings.”

    Your background is a legitimate example, but hardly substantiates “almost every branch of Christianity.” The example of “experiential tests” is directly contrary to the point of my post–I describe a personal course of study and experiment that reveals new knowledge to an individual, not, as your example does, a demand that faith rest on the supernatural experiences of someone else. Such claims are tantamount to claiming miracles as proof of religious truth, which Jesus roundly condemned (e.g. Matt 12:39, Luke 11:29, etc.). If you’re familiar with any other religion’s claim that personal study and experiment results in revelation of divine truth, I’d be eager to hear examples.

    “I assume that Mormons, like fundamentalist Christians, spend their “study” time reading and re-reading the various approved texts of their faith and the comments and “analysis” of others who have chosen to believe.

    Why are study and analysis in quotes here? Do you mean to imply that study and analysis of things you don’t personally, presently respect are not really study and analysis? Why not? How does the process lose legitimacy because you find the subject unpalatable? Your phrase “chosen to believe” suggests that faith is wishful thinking, and yet, it is those with faith whose lives are dedicated to sublimating their own will in ongoing effort to improve themselves and serve others. Isn’t atheism more likely to be the result of wishful thinking?

    “Even some Mormon scholars evidently have a difficult time buying into the historicity of Smith’s tall tales.”

    So what? Why is it surprising that some have had doubts or other conclusions? How does that explain authorship, much less account for the evidence I mentioned before? Incidentally, nothing you’ve written yet accounts for any of that evidence, either. Your link is to a very disreputable source, even among anti-Mormon critics, with only a handful of statements, some of which are only questions, and others which are only vague assertions of doubt. By your logic, a larger, more reputable body of scholars, such as is collected at MormonScholarsTestify.org, would trump your argument by being a larger compilation of work. However, I don’t contend that: as in the original post, I content that the Book of Mormon uniquely exists as a solid artifact whose nature and content demonstrate the reasonable existence of God. Popularity of opinions has nothing to with it.

    “Alternative theory of the authorship of the Book of Mormon? How about Joseph Smith made it up himself?

    Of course that’s the obvious explanation, but does it make sense in light of all the facts? Can you substantiate it? Again, can you account any, much less all, of the objective evidence?

    “Are there any non-Mormon scientists who can prove that there was an ancient culture in the Americas that parallels Smith’s mythology?”

    So the findings of LDS scholars that might bear on the matter are not only suspect, but automatically worthless? I can understand skepticism–that’s healthy–but outright rejection seems more like polemics than inquiry. And why would non-LDS scholars be studying Book of Mormon evidence, professionally, anyway? (Although, there have been those who have done so and then converted, but perhaps that then makes their conclusions less valuable to you? Curious.) At any rate, the answer is still yes. Read up on the subject here.

    “Even the stories told by Smith and others about his “discoveries” and “translation”, etc., employ techniques (seer stones,etc.) commonly associated with confidence men and hucksters of the time.”

    Maybe so, but this is circumstantial, at best. I thought we were talking about evidence. The Book of Mormon doesn’t need to be defended or criticized by tangents relating to the cultural milieu of its publishing, but by the text itself.

    “Ultimately, whatever his motivations or intentions, Smith is one of a number of men who have invented successful religions and the only difference is that his invention is more recent.”

    A bold yet completely unsubstantiated claim, as per everything above.

    “All religions consider themselves valid and thus, based solely on the claims of the religion and its adherents, we have no way to know which is or isn’t valid. With any set of ideas or beliefs, the only legitimate way to judge is to look at the effects of the belief on those who maintain it. That’s the only validity that can be judged by anyone outside the faith itself, and thus the only validity that is dependent on fact not belief.”

    Then you haven’t read Moroni’s promise, or understood my original post. The wonderful thing here for the skeptical agnostic is that this text is an exception to that. This physical item–a dense, sober, complex text–exists solely to provide a rational means for convincing otherwise unconverted minds that Jesus Christ is the son of God. One might argue with whether or not that conclusion is true or warranted, but the fact is that the nature of the text is what it is–no atheist could have devised a more ideal situation for the challenge and invitation the text offers.

    “As with any other world view or relationship, a person can evaluate a religion by weighing its positive benefits against its negative, in other words: Am I going to be better off believing than not and can I accept the mythology associated with this religion while being honest with myself? Any benefit a religion asserts that cannot be evaluated objectively (eternal life in heaven, reincarnation, seeing one’s deceased loved ones again,etc.) is simply irrelevant to any objective test of its validity. We can only judge the positive vs. negative effects of the religion on individuals, society and culture. For individuals, the positive effects are likely to be associated with their need for emotional support and comfort or membership in a group that can provide social benefits.”

    This is all very nice–everybody likes good people, and we should all happily tolerate beliefs that produce positive results, sure–but irrelevant to the matter at hand. I’m only sharing an opportunity for objective, fact-based, mentally stimulating research; you bring subjective attitudes to the table. Yes, a wholesome life is all fine and good, but hardly an airtight measure of truth or falsity of the Book of Morn’s claims, which I aver is discernible by an investigation of the text.

    “You accuse atheists of being closed minded, but we simply apply the same standards to religious claims as we do to any other claims.”

    I wouldn’t have it any other way! But do you really accept or reject scientific or medical theories based on how nicely they make people act? Please, subject the Book of Mormon to whatever laboratory scrutiny you want!

    “We don’t invent a separate set of standards to judge religion. You talk about “literal veracity of religious claims” and I would say that there is no way to prove those claims without first believing in the religion.”

    This is at least the third or fourth time you’ve made this claim, with no definitive defense behind it. So how do you know? Isn’t the whole point of my post that such a procedure does in fact exist? Shouldn’t you respect the mentally rigorous dimsension of the Book of Mormon’s assertion and proposed method of confirming or denying it? It’s right up any agnostic’s alley! If one isn’t interested, then hey, live and let live, but one cannot dismiss such a thing with intellectual honesty without investigating it in far more detail than you seem to have done here.

    Thanks again for the spirited exchange! I look forward to hearing any further ideas you have, friend!

  5. Well, I have been in a few other branches of Christianity in my time, but let’s not quibble over minor details. I certainly was taught as a youngster that bible study and testing my faith experientially would strengthen my faith and reveal God’s spirit in my life. We may have used different words, but the basic idea was the same.

    As for my implications about study and analysis, my point is that a study that restricts itself to material that supports one’s world view, and analysis that looks only at the holy books themselves and not at external historical research are not true study. Everyone who believes in a religion chooses to believe or chooses not to question the belief they were taught. All I’m saying is that it is a free choice, not an inevitability. Atheism is also a free choice. If one were to engage in wishful thinking, one would more likely select a world view that involved stories about a happy afterlife rather than one that did not.

    It is not my objective to prove that Mormonism is a hoax. When a religion makes unusual claims for itself and tells stories that have no parallels in human history and violate what we know to be true about our world, then the requirement for proof rests on the religion, not on those who dispute it. Popularity of opinions is also irrelevant, but it is relevant that individuals who have no ax to grind, no preconceptions, no pre-existing supportive world view don’t support the history claimed by the Mormon religion.

    Your statements make it clear that you have decided to believe in the Book of Mormon, but you haven’t really provided any evidence of its wild claims. You make the statement that the truth of the Book of Mormon can be discerned by investigating its text, but if you restrict yourself to that text, or presuppose that the text is true, then you aren’t really investigating, or studying, you are merely performing an act of devotion. Your belief rests upon your belief. Is it intellectually honest to accept the assertions of the Book of Mormon and its self-asserted method of confirmation without looking at the considerable evidence that the book is a hoax?

  6. OK, Charles, I’m setting aside a few minutes to respond to two of your comments in one evening. This is fun!

    “Well, I have been in a few other branches of Christianity in my time, but let’s not quibble over minor details. I certainly was taught as a youngster that bible study and testing my faith experientially would strengthen my faith and reveal God’s spirit in my life. We may have used different words, but the basic idea was the same.”

    If you say so, but despite your earnestness, I think your lack of experience with my point of view is making you impose your background on it and conclude that they’re the same. I also have a background in some of the “few other branches” you mention, and in general, the “study and prove it by analysis and revelation straight from God” approach of Mormonism is not only rare in other sects, but often actively discouraged, in favor of the more “blind faith” or “believe in other people’s experiences” examples you provided.

    “As for my implications about study and analysis, my point is that a study that restricts itself to material that supports one’s world view,”

    Another instance of putting words in my mouth–when did I ever say this? To the contrary, I would avoid any such narrow-minded process. I’m serious about likening the development of faith to a scientific experiment; what researcher only tests a hypothesis in a way that consciously eliminates all avenues except confirmation?

    “and analysis that looks only at the holy books themselves and not at external historical research are not true study.”

    Again, I never said that. By all means, do all the physical, real-world, evidential exploration you want. If anything, though, my point is that a work as long and complex as the Book of Mormon, claiming in such detail to be a product of a ecertain foreign time and place, should be easy to expose as a fraud if that’s what it is.

    “Everyone who believes in a religion chooses to believe or chooses not to question the belief they were taught. All I’m saying is that it is a free choice, not an inevitability. Atheism is also a free choice.”

    This hardly accounts for adult conversion, borne of independent circumstances, which to some degree must occur in nearly all believers who remain active in their faith. Still, this is like saying any scientist “believes” in the tenets of their field because of a “choice.” The closest I can come to agreeing with this is to say that, once the truth has been understood, by a rigorous process of study, prayer, and all the mental and spiritual work those entail, one must choose the path of intellectual integrity and conform to facts, or selfishly deny it and pretend it never happened, which any Mormon can tell you they’ve seen more than once.

    I surely agree that atheism is a free choice, but what evidence supports that conclusion? How does one prove a negative?

    “If one were to engage in wishful thinking, one would more likely select a world view that involved stories about a happy afterlife rather than one that did not.”

    Ah, so it’s the “opiate of the masses” talking point, is it? Well, it wasn’t true in Marx’s time, and it still isn’t true in ours. How can you possibly substantiate the convenient assumption that belief is largely (entirely?) a product of fear of death and/or inability to deal with life? Doesn’t that ignore a mountain of possibility, reducing billions of people to pathetic one-dimensional stereotypes?

    “It is not my objective to prove that Mormonism is a hoax. When a religion makes unusual claims for itself and tells stories that have no parallels in human history and violate what we know to be true about our world,”

    Neither the “parallel” clause nor the “violate” clause are true–this seems as good a place as any to point out that, in multiple posts, you have yet to give any specific examples of the claims you’ve made against the Book of Mormon, much less provided documentation.

    “then the requirement for proof rests on the religion, not on those who dispute it.”

    True! That’s the whole point of the Book of Mormon!

    “Popularity of opinions is also irrelevant, but it is relevant that individuals who have no ax to grind, no preconceptions, no pre-existing supportive world view don’t support the history claimed by the Mormon religion.”

    Really? Who are they? How do you know their motives are so pure? And how do you account for those scholars who have found the evidence compelling enough to develop faith and convert? And how does any of this account for the evidence I’ve offered, much less finally provide any of your own?

    “Your statements make it clear that you have decided to believe in the Book of Mormon,”

    Yes, in the sense that I have accepted the overwhelming evidence of extensive, holistic research, and the tangible, spiritual manifestations that weren’t like anything else in mortal experience. Each supports the other, and each is necessary to develop faith, but the objective research is available even to the most antagonistic to religion.

    “but you haven’t really provided any evidence of its wild claims. You make the statement that the truth of the Book of Mormon can be discerned by investigating its text, but if you restrict yourself to that text, or presuppose that the text is true, then you aren’t really investigating, or studying, you are merely performing an act of devotion. Your belief rests upon your belief. Is it intellectually honest to accept the assertions of the Book of Mormon and its self-asserted method of confirmation without looking at the considerable evidence that the book is a hoax?”

    I’ve given a link twice that collects a small encyclopedia’s worth of evidence–internally based on the text as well as externally based on the physical world and other items outside the text–but you clearly haven’t even surveyed it. Why not? If it’s too long, here’s a briefer summary to get started, but even the larger page is just the tip of the evidential iceberg.

    Yes, its method of confirmation is self-asserted, but only in the sense that any science textbook’s explication of the scientific method is a “self assertion.” It’s also universally, logically consistent, and effective. I’ve only recommended study and research of a text here. If one’s inclined, one could then go on to the joyous miracle of seeking the Spirit, but my whole, original point is that the text exists, is accessible, and is ready to withstand withering scrutiny. That should be any skeptic’s dream come true! You’re welcome.

    If you have any convincing evidence–beyond circumstantial speculation and character assassination–that the Book of Mormon is fraudulent, I’d be happy to engage it openly.

    How about this? If you could just find five worthwhile points against the text, I’ll take them seriously and research them fairly, and report on them here. Would you then engage the top five points I could offer in favor of it?

  7. This is one of several web sites full of worthwhile evidence that the Book of Mormon is fraudulent, but that’s a bit beside the point. It is the BofM that makes wild claims for itself and that contains a “history” that is not evident from archaeology or other historical sources. It is the responsibility of those who believe the BofM is true to prove their view, not up to everyone else to prove them wrong. Sure adherents can “discover” all sorts of convoluted “proofs” of isolated fragments of the book (as in the link you cite), but again, this is a bit beside the point. (It’s also rather interesting that in the summary link you provide, virtually all the works cited in the footnotes are written by Mormon apologists. That should tell you something.)

    The problem is not simply with LDS. Why should it be necessary or even advisable for a person to suspend disbelief and claim belief in some wild story, whether it is gold tablets in upstate NY or virgins having children? What benefits does a religious belief provide that outweigh the disadvantage of learning to believe myths are reality, that priests, bishops or apostles or whatever are authorities that speak for God? What demonstrable, earthly benefit does it provide that could not be provided elsewhere while allowing the person more integrity and independence?

    We aren’t going to convince each other that the Book of Mormon is true or false, so there’s not much point in beating that dead horse. My claim is that people choose to believe a religion because of benefits they gain in the here and now, usually without a lot of analysis of the wild claims the religion makes for itself. The wild claims and the necessity for believing them and the claims of authority made by religious leaders are simply methods by which the religion tries to hang on to its members and discourage them (or divert them) from rigorous examination of its myths and history.

  8. Charles, thanks for responding again.  If this is your last comment, as it seems, then I’ve appreciated the exchange.

    To be honest, I’d be surprised if you were familiar with the site you referenced before writing your comment—it’s hardly a quality source, and looks more like something that was found quickly to meet my request for sources.  This begs the question—if you didn’t have a good source that you’ve read before that you could share, where did your conclusions come from?  So, as you didn’t respond to my invitation to give the five biggest evidences against the Book of Mormon, I’ll take them from the page you cited. 

    The biggest problem with the “evidences” cited there is that they mostly rely on the assumption that a lack of hard evidence is somehow itself proof of fraud.  As I noted in a recent post about Obama’s birth certificate, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  Not having found something is not proof that it is or was not there. 

    Is that really the best argument against the Book of Mormon, anyway?  If it’s a fraud, shouldn’t there be numerous holes in the text, inconsistencies in its production, and explicit contradictions with the existing facts?  Saying that some evidence might be lacking seems like a pretty weak attempt to divert attention from the facts that are there. 

    Imagine a court trial where a prosecutor shows a taped confession, motive, means, opportunity, witnesses, a murder weapon with matching fingerprints, and the accused’s DNA at the scene, but the judge says, “Sorry, I think there ought to be an accomplice in this case, and you haven’t shown me one.  Case dismissed.”  That would be ridiculous, and yet, that’s what you’ve done here.

    Your only acknowledgement of the case for the Book of Mormon is when you say, “Sure adherents can ‘discover’ all sorts of convoluted ‘proofs’ of isolated fragments of the book,” which barely rises to the level of insult, and certainly is not a serious engagement of the material at hand. 

    Incidentally, the questions about my sources being from LDS scholars is strange—the only thing that shows is that most Book of Mormon research is done by Mormons.  That’s surprising?  Besides being a rehash of the fallacious “wishful thinking” argument, this also implies that you’d give more respect to non-LDS scholars whose findings support the text, but is that honest?  Most of the sources cited on the web page I gave are not original research, but popular collections by Mormons of general research done by non-LDS scholars, anyway.  Still, why not evaluate the evidence as it is, rather than rejecting the source?

    To go back to your citation of evidence against the book, not only does it rest on weak and shaky thought, but it isn’t even accurate.  For example, the first concrete thing offered as evidence against the Book of Mormon by your source is that no Nephite or Lamanite cities have been found.

    How do you know?  How do you know that any known city wasn’t also a Book of Mormon city?  How would you know if there were?  What, are you looking for a jungle city with a sign that says, “Congratulations!  You’ve discovered a Book of Mormon city!”  Your source acknowledges that many candidates have in fact been found for Book of Mormon locations, but fails to explain why any of them aren’t tenable.  While critics may rightly focus on the Mesoamerican bulk of the text, the first book of the Book of Mormon anthology is squarely located in the Arabian peninsula, and has been well documented.  Why ignore that? 

    The web page also claims that the Book of Mormon doesn’t mention other populations, but it does.  Other passages do suggest awareness of and even trade with other tribes. However, why would ignoring any surrounding peoples be de facto proof of fraud?  It doesn’t follow. 

    The web page also makes much of the seeming lack of things the Book of Mormon mentions, but barley and wheat (despite the web page’s unsubstantiated and convenient dismissal) do have plausible corollaries in the New World, the figs and grapes were poetic quotes (and not, as the page claimed, Book of Mormon crops), and elephants were only mentioned as being brought with one transplanted tribe thousands of years before the main narrative even begins—it never says they were bred or flourished after that. 

    In short, of the points given against the Book of Mormon, they are all either misrepresentations of the text or (as is likely in the case of the horse, for which there are also plausible corollaries) issues of translating names into an English idiom.  None of them are definitive proof that the Book of Mormon could not be true; even if the claims you cited were true, the Book of Mormon could still have happened. Again, shouldn’t the case against it be more airtight than that? It should give the critic pause that such is not the case.

    Will you engage the evidence for the text as directly as I’ve engaged the evidence against it?

    Your last two paragraphs repeat larger issues of belief, but again, it’s strange to see them in this forum.  Though I know the value of belief, that’s not the issue here—this post is about what’s verifiably true or not true.  My thesis, as I’ve explained and defended it here, is that the Book of Mormon is objective, hard evidence for the existence of God.  In short, it’s a fact.

    So leave aside the aesthetic quibbles over faith and doubt for the moment.  Don’t facts have value in and of themselves?

  9. Huston, I really haven’t sufficient interest in the topic to read through all the “evidence” for the Book of Mormon, and I doubt that it would change my mind, just as no amount of evidence I might bring proving the BofM to be a hoax is going to convince you. As I stated a couple of times earlier, when someone makes extraordinary claims that fly in the face of what science knows to be true, they are the ones who must bear the burden of proof. If I say there is no such thing as the force of gravity, it isn’t up to physics professors to prove me wrong, it is up to me to explain myself. So saying “the Book of Mormon could still have happened” is insufficient to make the case that it is objective fact.

    We will have to agree to disagree here.

  10. Charles, I agree–I accept responsibility for the burden of proof, and have endeavored to satisfy that, but you’ve consistently ignored what I offer.

    My point that “the Book of Mormon could have happened” isn’t intended to prove its authenticity–that wouldn’t follow. That only shows that the argument against it is weak and fails to discredit it. The attention then should turn back to the evidence for it, which I’m happy to say stands on its own.

    But when you open by saying, “I really haven’t sufficient interest in the topic to read through all the ‘evidence’ for the Book of Mormon,” you reveal what really frustrates the process here. As I’ve said, you have no obligation to engage this material, but it would be intellectually dishonest to assert definitively that the text is a fraud without doing that study first. So, if you’re not interested, you’re not interested. As you say, we agree to disagree.

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